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The Role of Mixing in Digital Music Production

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by: MLS_Admin
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Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2013 Time: 6:17 PM

Sound mixing is an art which relies on technological tools for expression. Professional music producers spend a lot of time mixing their creations because mixing done the right or wrong way can make or break a song. The state of affairs was not always this way. During the 1970s a song could be successful if it was melodious and was sung by a good and/or well known vocalist. They did not have to be mixed well. But the technological advancement along with the falling prices of equipment from the 1990s onwards ensured that standard music producing equipment was available to a much larger group of people. In fact one could mix music right at one's own personal computer at home. All that was required was a standard sound card and some sound modules. What this resulted in was that increasing numbers of people began producing professionally created tracks leading to intensified competition. Music producers had no alternative but to come out with professionally sounding tracks. This made sound mixing an important part of music production, so much so that a very successful pop music producer whose productions have consistently made it to the top ten charts around the world admitted in an interview that he spends nearly a week on the mixing of each song.


Now what is sound mixing all about? Whenever a musical performance is recorded the music is spread over a number of tracks and sources, sound mixing is the process through which these sound tracks/sources are combined to make a meaningful end product. For example, while mixing commercial songs, the various tracks that are mixed include vocals, instruments and effects. The different techniques used in mixing are -


  • Level or Volume
  • Panning or Stereo Image and
  • Frequency or Equalizing


Level or volume manipulation can be understood well if you visualize the sound field as a 3 dimensional space. Altering levels means changing the placement of various elements of the music. For example larger level refers to bringing an element closer, while smaller level refers to the opposite. In level mixing the various tracks of a music production are unified by altering the levels of each in such ways that they create the intended effect in the listener.


The process of panning helps the music producer to create an audio experience in which music from various instruments seem to come from different positions reflecting the way they are placed in live situations. For example in a live concert the vocals and drums are positioned in the center, the keyboard a little towards the left and the guitar towards the right. In panning the various elements of the music production are arranged in the stereo spectrum to provide lifelike or innovative effects.


Equalizing of frequency is a complex process and is therefore among the advanced techniques used in mixing. In order to effectively use this technique the sound engineer should understand the harmonic content of various elements and how changing the frequency of a particular element can influence the timbre of the instrument which produced it. For example, if an electric guitar and vocals are on the same range then it would help to lower the frequency of the guitar.


The above three are the basic methods used in sound mixing; advanced users build up on them to come up with finer methods of adjustment.

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